Waiting for weather, Big Sand Cay
Beyond this is Africa. Standing on the windward beach, staring out across the sapphire sea, on the other side is Senegal, Liberia, the coast once traveled by the slave traders, the rum traders. The beach is strewn with garbage, inexplicable plastic—an empty bottle from Oman that held sunflower oil, a full bottle of prescription pills, a container of mismatched doll shoes. Birds cry, night and day. They must be nesting in the shrubs, for they hover, screaming in sweet, high voices, when we walk past, and fragments of pale gray and brown speckled egg roll down the sand toward the water. The colors of the eggshells are blurred, as if windblown. Rising on the hill at the center of the island, across a stretch of low cactus, a graffitied cinderblock bunker, “property of U.S. government ” stenciled in fading official letters on the wall. The door is curtained with spiderwebs. Bars of a ladder lead through a square in the floor, down, down into something I don’t want to see. The square little room, illuminated by tropical sunlight, feels like a trap. The door to hell, I think—it just flashes into my mind, unpremeditated melodrama.
We sail five miles north to Salt Cay for a day, where people have scraped up salt every summer since the late seventeenth century. The small beach is thick with shells and sea glass. The buildings here have the soft corners of old brick. The old salt warehouse sits on a corner near the breakwater, falling apart slowly. Two men have come from conch fishing-shirtless, their eyes unfocused by sun and barometric pressure. The short one asks if I’m married. I tell him yes. I’m single, he says. I’m looking for a woman right now. You want to come and spend some time with me? This is island desperation--a small island, a shoal in the midst of an enormous sea, rough just now with whitecaps. Dude, I say, I don’t have time. We’ve got to get back to Big Sand Cay. I don’t have time? Is that how I explain myself? And what’s with the full disclosure? I have arrived here, looking for groceries, with a strange unstructured openness that seems to follow days on deserted islands. Any sentence seems almost as likely as any other.